Mayor Jim Brainard on City-to-City Diplomacy Between the U.S. and China

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July/August 2023

Last month, Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard welcomed the Chinese Consul General in Chicago, Mr. Zhao Jian, who requested a meeting with Brainard in Carmel. The two leaders met in the mayor’s office and discussed China-United States relations and the cooperation between China and the City of Carmel.

As a current board member of the United States Heartland China Association, Brainard will lead a delegation of about eight U.S. mayors this fall to communities along the Yangtze River Valley area. The Yangtze River is the longest river in both China and Asia and is the third-longest river in the world. It is comparable to the Mississippi River valley region of the U.S. The mission of this trip, as well as of the USHCA organization, is to “foster and support a positive, productive, and mutually beneficial relationship between the people of the United States and China by creating more channels of collaboration and opportunities for economic growth in the American Heartland Region.”

Brainard  U.S. and China

A Brief History of USHCA

USHCA is a 501(c)(3) bipartisan organization committed to building bridges and promoting opportunities between the peoples of the Heartland Region [20 states located in the U.S. between the Great Lakes to the Gulf] and the People’s Republic of China. Its focus is on “Trust Building” efforts connecting government officials; business leaders; educational and community interests with like-minded institutions between the Heartland Region and the People’s Republic of China.

The original organization was founded in 2003 as the Midwest China Association by U.S. Senator Adlai Stevenson [IL]; John Rogers, lawyer and professor; and Governor Bob Holden [MO], former Chairman of the Midwest Governors Association. Holden is currently the organization’s Chairman and President. Its region covered 12 Midwestern states originally. In 2018, it expanded to serve 20 states from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico and changed its name to the United States Heartland China Association.

As planning for the USHCA trip to China is well underway, Brainard shared that he, along with his fellow U.S. mayors and their Chinese counterparts, will engage in seminars and agricultural roundtable discussions for approximately 10 days.

Building Diplomatic Ties at the City Level

Diplomatic relations between China and the U.S. are of paramount importance at both the national and sub-national levels, including at the state and city levels. These relations have a significant impact on various aspects of political, economic, cultural and social exchanges between the two countries.

Major cities in both China and the U.S. serve as economic powerhouses. Establishing diplomatic ties at the city level can facilitate direct trade and investment between cities, leading to increased prosperity and development. Cities in both the U.S. and China face common challenges like climate change, urbanization and public health. Diplomatic relations at the city level can facilitate the sharing of best practices and innovative solutions to address these issues.

“This was an important meeting to have with Zhao Jian and his staff,” Brainard said. “Although there are issues of disagreement between China and the United States, it is vital to talk to each other. Strong diplomatic relations between China and the U.S. at the state and city level can create a conducive environment for collaboration, economic growth and cultural exchange. These relationships, in turn, contribute to the understanding between the two nations and can potentially have a positive influence on the overall bilateral relations at the national level.”

Brainard’s Meeting With the Chinese Consul General

A Consul General is a diplomatic representative of a country appointed to oversee and promote the interests of their home country in a foreign city. The Consul General operates under the authority of the embassy or the diplomatic mission of their home country, which is usually located in the capital city of the host country. Consulates are established in various cities of a country to provide consular services and support to its citizens residing or traveling in that region.

Brainard  U.S. and China

“Diplomacy should not necessarily be done [solely] at the federal level,” Brainard said. “It is especially important, when nations are in disagreement with one another, for people representing all walks of life to talk with people in the other country, recognizing that trade and direct foreign investments are good and cement friendships. While we may disagree on many issues, it is important to look for the issues that we have in common and the values that we do agree on. It’s important to keep conversations open. Not communicating with people who have different ideas is never the solution.”

The City of Carmel is home to a large number of people who are originally from China and who own companies or are employed by Chinese-owned businesses in Carmel.

“It is important to have these cultural exchanges [locally and abroad] to get to know each other and understand each other,” Brainard emphasized. “Doing that city by city [throughout the U.S. and China] assists with decreasing the chances of having escalated conflicts. And we want what’s called foreign direct investment. We want companies to have U.S. headquarters in Carmel as opposed to some other city in the U.S. It is good for our economy and workforce development.”

During the meeting with Mr. Zhao Jian, which lasted nearly two hours, Brainard shared that they discussed China’s need for better health care for its people, more access to affordable and available flights to the U.S., and the need to purchase high-quality protein and milk from the U.S.

“We also discussed that we need to work more on climate initiatives, of course — he knew that is an interest of mine,” Brainard said. “It was a friendly visit, and he talked about how beautiful Carmel is. They had driven down from Chicago and had driven around the city before the meeting. He mentioned that they have also been in the city-building business, as there’s been a huge shift in populations from rural areas to cities.”

For more information on the United States Heartland China Association, visit

A total of 430 Fortune 1000 companies are headquartered in 84 of the cities within the Heartland region. USHCA mayors lead 37 of the 100 largest cities in the United States. The U.S. national GDP ranks first in the world. Remove the U.S. Heartland region from this analysis, and the European Union would rank first, China second, U.S. third.